Monday, July 15, 2019

High Standards. Low Expectations.

There is an awkward tension in the Bible between facing how short we constantly fall of God's standards and still persevering to be like him. And the more you read, the more is on the line! Hoping to do better each day, we prop up our self esteem and motivation with scriptures about his grace and strength in us before abruptly crashing once more into our old nature like a supervillain with an endless supply of kryptonite. "Consider how far you have fallen"? No problem!

I'm one who emphasizes the value of works in our faith. I'm also the screw-up. In that light, a principle I've encouraged myself with for a long time is, "High standards. Low expectations." It can sound derogatory but let me spell it out a little. It applies first to God's attitude toward you and me. "High standards" is the perfect (or even marginally better) person we all hope to be when comparing ourselves to our Father. "Low expectations" is our Father's knowledge that this is grade school field day. From his own humanity, he also knows we're more likely to trip on our shoelaces than win the event. He's the parent cheering for us anyway, even if we finish last. Just finish! There's enough participation ribbons for everyone. That's why that demeaning parent screaming for nothing short of 1st place is appalling.

But after the participation ribbons are given out, the podiums are real. Father's high standards are attached to his interest in passing his kingdom and wealth onto his children, each according to their ability. His condemnation is only for those who don't trust his encouragement enough to try. That's why he's keeping track of your success, not your failure. He's looking for things to reward, not punish. And he's not weighing them against each other to see how much good is canceled out by the bad.

Yes. Sometimes, discipline has to happen for our own good, to make us children who can handle greater privilege. But that kind of judgement is for parents, not children. And we're the children! Beyond that, it's not merely an encouragement that there's no condemnation in Christ. It's the law! You don't have to beg. Now, retie your shoe laces and go persevere at that higher standard you're struggling toward. Between the lines of Father's warnings to never forget his patience and grace is the message that it's not hard to make him proud.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


With everyone's utterly relaxed demeanor in front of the store, it took a minute to identify the alarm sounding as I approached Home Depot. I entered the unguarded door with no sense of danger along side several other patrons. Inside, the ear piercing beeps and screeches seemed to echo off everything except ear drums as shopping continued unchecked, save one safety conscious fellow who commented that everyone would be dead if the fire were real. A single employee tried to direct a few shoppers who didn't care about his authority any more than the alarm. I obliged him but the alarm stopped after ten paces toward the exit and he ended up apologizing for the misdirection.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire." Where there's no smoke, no one's changing course no matter how loud the alarm is. Maybe they would have back when alarms were hard to set off but now they carry an almost hopeful tone that something sensational really is happening, like every headline on my Google News feed. It's in our nature to hope for the sensational, rubberneck past the accident, tell a great story about what almost happened. So much so that a flood of new predictions stream in undaunted by the shortfall of old ones and the persistence of the status quo.

The end of the world from imminent catastrophe X is always just around the corner. For Christians, that's been true since Christ promised to return. You can hear the heightened anticipation in most New Testament books. Still waiting. It's a great paycheck for those who can market it and great entertainment for the rest of us. Truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ shamelessly caters to our natural tendency to hope that something sensational really will happen. The world will end. Lots of smoke and fire. Heavenly trumpets of epic doom and glory followed by actual epic doom and glory. But it also warns of getting desensitized to the point of saying, "things go on as they always have and always will." Sometimes I think the trigger for Christ's return may just be when we're all sufficiently tired of the increasingly frantic blare of hollow sirens. Till then, I need to find the torx bits that the apologetic employee said where in aisle nineteen.